For those that are arguing that without vocabularly, it isn't considered a language:

From Wikipedia: Language is a system that consists of the development, acquisition, maintenance and use of complex systems of communication, particularly the human ability to do so; a language is any specific example of such a system.

I am aware that languages already exist today that use relative changes in pitch. This question is not about relative pitch; it is about absolute pitch.

In this country I've developed in my world, people without absolute pitch are treated akin to those with dyslexia or even autism, and have trouble communicating.

There are two forms of this language:

  1. Phonemes + absolute pitch combination (common, simplified): This version uses words that are spoken at a pre-defined set of absolute pitches. (for this question let's say the notes are a classic Western 12-tone equal temperament )

    • Octaves are treated the same. For example, there's no difference between C3 and C4. In this context, "octaves" refers to any notes that have dominant frequencies with a "power of 2" relationship. ($\times2$, $\times4$, $\times8$, $\times\frac{1}{2}$, $\times\frac{1}{4}$, $\times\frac{1}{8}$, etc.)

    • Just like the order of words/phonemes is meaningful in most — if not all — languages, the order of note pitches is meaningful for this language. A C note followed by an A note will mean something different than an A note followed by a C note, even if the same words/phonemes are used.

  2. Absolute pitch (advanced, less common): This version does not rely on phonemes at all. People can simply hum a note or even play a note on an instrument.

    • The absolute pitch matters and is dependent upon the dominant frequencies. Like the previous version, octaves are considered the same.
    • And just like the previous version, the order of note pitches is meaningful.
    • However, the length of notes is important in this version. The length of time that a note is held will mean different things. It is also relative, and each note compares its length to the note before and after it. For example, as long as one note is longer or shorter than the note before it, it doesn't matter how long the note is held. So a 2-second note followed by a 1-second note is the same as a 3-second note followed by a 2-second note, assuming the notes are the same pitch and in the same order.

Since notes have lingual significance for this country's culture:

Could music develop in this language?

To outside countries, this language would sound bizarre, with seemingly random notes that might be annoying to listen to. And to this country, music from outside countries would just sound like a particularly bad day of Google Translate and would be cringe-worthy to them.

My definition for what "music" is is based upon modern-day music, particularly that of Western and Asian countries such as the United States, South Korea, etc. which use 12-tone equal temperament.

NOTE: Although the question The alphabet of a language based on pitch and vocabulary involves a similar language, I am not concerned with the alphabet of my language at this time.

  • $\begingroup$ A language which does not rely on phonemes is a contradition in terms. By definition the smallest distinguishable speech elements are called phonemes. $\endgroup$
    – AlexP
    Dec 6, 2019 at 5:21
  • $\begingroup$ @AlexP Oh really? Because entry #2 on a simple Google search states the definition of language as 'a system of communication used by a particular country or community.' $\endgroup$
    – overlord
    Dec 6, 2019 at 15:21
  • $\begingroup$ From Wikipedia: Language is a system that consists of the development, acquisition, maintenance and use of complex systems of communication, particularly the human ability to do so; a language is any specific example of such a system. $\endgroup$
    – overlord
    Dec 6, 2019 at 15:22
  • $\begingroup$ By the definition of a phoneme, not by the definition of a language. Double proof that you are simply refusing to put any work into developing your ideas. A spoken language has sentences, which consist of phrases, which consist of words, which consist of lexemes and morphemes, which consist of phonemes. There is no such thing as a spoken language which does not have phonemes. The smallest recognizable audible unit is called a phoneme. $\endgroup$
    – AlexP
    Dec 6, 2019 at 15:45
  • $\begingroup$ BTW, in what culture do musical notes have absolute pitches? Because in the western musical tradition musical notes are pitch classes defined by their interrelationship. $\endgroup$
    – AlexP
    Dec 6, 2019 at 15:52

5 Answers 5



In non-absolute-pitch languages, pitch is used in everyday speech to impart different meanings to what is being said. Everything from feelings, to you know what I really mean.

In an absolute-pitch language altering the pitch changes the word, possibly completely. So how will natural speakers convey feelings, and the implicit? Through beat and rhythm.

That being said, some absolute-pitch languages might purposefully assign several pitch variants for similar/identical meanings allowing a stylistic choice between pronunciations, allowing for feelings and the implicit to be communicated via pitch.

Similarly some absolute-pitch languages may even have contextually sensitive words. These would sound identical, but have different meanings based on other words or even the general pitch of words in the same sentence.

This sets the scene for several different forms of poetry, and a grand oratory tradition. Covering the gamut from the emotional, through to parodies and word play.

Musical Instruments

If every pure note/half tones/etc.. represent a word or part of a word, then most musical instruments as we categorise them are simply manual voice boxes, or perhaps even the voices of the gods. As they are capable of producing words that no mortal can say themselves.

These instruments could be woven together to make in themselves a complicated choral style song. It won't necessarily be seen as music to the participants, but it is not to dissimilar to a choir (just using wind/string instruments instead of throats).


We see music as about pitch largely because our language is non-absolute-pitch. But music is not just about pitch, it is also about beat and rhythm.

Ergo absolute-pitch languages would still develop music along the lines of beat and rhythm. It would be how the tempo changes, how the beat speeds up and slows down, how loud or quiet the various instruments are. Even the relative composition of those instruments/voices would play a role in the truly great pieces of music.


Is essentially speaking a poem to a beat/rhythm. (Rhythmic American Poetry).

While many speakers of the absolute-pitch language would use beat/rhythm to impart meaning these would be everyday rhythms. Those rhythms used in music would be way more complicated.

Also depending on how words are formed, poetry will choose between them and even engineer them to select pleasing successive pitches.

The end result is that: Yes, a society who communicates using pure pitch is more than capable of generating a musical tradition as we would define it.

  • 1
    $\begingroup$ There are no human languages in the real world where the absolute pitch is important or even noticeable. (Which is at it is to be expected, given that the vast majority of people cannot recognize absolute pitch.) $\endgroup$
    – AlexP
    Dec 6, 2019 at 15:57
  • $\begingroup$ @AlexP Correct. The absolute pitch speakers are a hypothetical group extruded from the notion of us + absolute pitch hearing + absolute pitch has meaning + history of speaking in absolute pitch. $\endgroup$
    – Kain0_0
    Dec 8, 2019 at 22:11

To outside countries, this language would sound bizarre, with seemingly random notes that might be annoying to listen to.

Their day-to-day speech, perhaps. (Although I suspect there are some underlying principles of euphony that would direct how day-to-day speech in this language develops so that it "sounds right".) But music is not a matter of day-to-day speech any more than poetry is.

In most (all?) languages with a poetic tradition, you find poetic devices intended to convey the same meaning as regular speech but in a way that sits better on a page or sounds better spoken aloud in the context of a poem. Things like reversing word order when necessary, using different pronunciations (think of the poetic "o'er" or "'twas"), or expanding single words into phrases that fit the meter. This language would develop similar tricks, things that aren't done normally but make their artistic language flow better.

Songwriting, at least for vocal parts, would be a complicated affair - trying to convey meaning while also constructing a melody out of the words you choose, and any poetic devices you want/need to employ.


There's more to music than just pitch. You have speed and beat and other sorts of things. And there's also natural sounds that aren't a designated pitch. Percussion instruments come to mind. A cymbal crash has a sound and pitch (Depending on cymbal of course), but it's not necessarily tuned to be a specific one. Tapping a pen on a desk, in addition to driving someone nuts, also produces a specific sound but isn't a pitch.

I expect percussion sort of music would be a possibility.

There's also beatboxing and similar types of vocal music making - In a way, these people are "Speaking" but they're not intending on making words. Yet, it can still be enjoyable to listen to. In an absolute pitch language, not every single combination is a true word - It might well be gibberish that occasionally produces a real word but that's not the intent so it isn't listened for.

And, lastly in my answer, there's speed. There are people that speak reallyreallyfast and also people that speak. Quite. Slow. Yet, they are using the same words. This can also apply to your absolute pitch language.

In summary - It might not be anything like what we think of as music, but auditory entertainment would absolutely be a thing.


Poetry and music would be a single art form. In a non-tonal language such as English, a poet conveys meaning through both the definitions of the words and their sounds. A word may be selected instead of a near synonym because of its sound, using any or all of rhythm, rhyme, alliteration, and onomatopoeia.

In your language, the poet-composer would pick among words with similar meaning based on their musical effect. In the advanced version of the language, the relative lengths of the notes would control the rhythm of the music, and be very important to the poet-composer. There would be no distinction between vocal and instrumental music.


Yes, it's called poetry. The interesting question is whether all of their speech would turn towards poetry, making it sound like music. There's a lot of advantages to that kind of thinking (ranging from expressing emotions to simply cut and dry checksums to make sure the message was conveyed correctly).

I wanted to quote some of the lyrics from Tales of Mystery and Imagination by the Allen Parsons Project. Its a musical setting of the written works of Edgar Allen Poe (and are, as far as I know Poe's own words as read by Orson Welles). I like to think that, were our language written tonally, their rendition is how Poe would have written it in the first place:

For my own part, I have never had a thought which I could not set down in words, with even more distinctness than that with which I conceived it.
There is, however, a class of fancies, of exquisite delicacy, which are not thoughts, and to which, as yet, I have found it absolutely impossible to adapt language.
These fancies arise in the soul (alas, how rarely!) only at its epochs of most intense tranquillity -- when the bodily and mental health are in perfection -- and at those mere points of time where the confines of the waking world blend with the world of dreams
And so I captured this fancy, where all that we see or seem is but a dream within a dream.

and later, from the Fall of Usher:

Shadows of shadows passing.
It is now 1831, and as always, I am absorbed with a delicate thought.
It is how poetry has indefinite sensations, to which end music is an essential,
since the comprehension of sweet sound is our most indefinite conception.
Music, when combined with a pleasurable idea, is poetry.
Music, without the idea, is simply music.
Without music, or an intriguing idea, color becomes pallor;
Man becomes carcass;
Home becomes catacomb;
The dead are, but for a moment, motionless.

Maybe its cheating to quote a great genius, but his words are the answer I wish my mind could conjure up for its own.


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